Liberals Look Ahead for Gains under Democratic Action
"Liberals Look Ahead for Gains under Democratic Action"
The Evening Star, Washington, DC 4 January 1947
New Dealers and other liberals of various political faiths rallied today under the banner of the Union for Democratic Action to plan their future, after a dinner last night at the Shoreham Hotel at which leaders called for a stiffened front against triumphant "forces of reaction."
While the question of a third party was unsettled as the delegates were called to a closed session at the Willard Hotel today, Chester Bowles, in a keynote address at the dinner, saw too many obstacles in the way of an effective third party. He said the Democratic Party, "with all its fault, is our most effective instrument for political action."
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a world point of view that encompassed more than the solution of America's domestic problems.
"I have no fear of Communists or Fascists," she said, "if we know what we want, and say it in words simple enough for everybody to understand."
If the people know what they want, they will find leaders to carry out their wishes, Mrs. Roosevelt added, but it must not be for the United States alone, but must take into account the rest of the world.
Wilson Wyatt,2 former Federal housing expediter, said: "I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of Americans are liberals, the verdict at the polls in November to the contrary notwithstanding. They are looking to leadership and to a rallying point."
All the scientific plans for housing, he told the crowd of more than 400 at the dinner, have not solved the problem of giving the typical American family a typical American home—a decent habitation. In worrying about the two totalitarian extremes of fascism and communism, he said, we are overlooking American democracy, which is the most important issue of the day.
"Will this Nation," asked Leon Henderson,3 who presided, "find within itself the vision and courage to build a stable and equitable economy, or will it become the powerful center of world reaction and imperialism? Will America be a symbol of hope or fear? This is our challenge."
Mr. Bowles, former head of OPA and director of economic stabilization, made this comment on the radical fringes of liberalism: "We must be prepared to defend the right of American Communists to propagate their views through their own organizations. But we must make it crys-tal clear that there is no place in the American liberal movement for those who would compromise with the principle of individual liberty.
"There are enormous forces in American life that are both progressive and non-Communist. It is these democrat groups and individuals that must be brought together into the fullest political partnership based on a common conviction that freedom and planning are not only compatible but in the long run inseparable."
Mr. Bowles added: "We should not harbor any illusions about a third party. The legal and organizational obstacles in the way of an effective third party organization are too great. The Democratic party, with all its faults, is our most effective instrument for political action.
"If we expect to regain the ground we shall have lost by 1948, we must elect a liberal President and a liberal Congress. To accomplish this we must work through the Democratic party machinery. In the next two years, we must return the Democratic party to the ideals and objectives of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and Roosevelt. This will not be easy."
And Mr. Bowles went on to say "We cannot blink the fact that the party of Roosevelt is also the party of Bilbo and Rankin.4 But the fact remains that we have no practical alternative. All our efforts, all our ingenuity, must be thrown into the struggle to establish liberal control of the Democratic party in 1948."
He charged extremists of both the Right and Left with saying there are no alternatives to Communism on one hand and narrow capitalism on the other.
"It is the responsibility of American liberals," said Mr. Bowles, "to prove that the extremists are wrong. It is our task to provide a program of democratic action dynamic, politically practical a program designed to provide freedom as well as security for everyday people everywhere. Our success or failure in providing this alternative will determine not only the shape of our own country, but the hope of the world as a whole."
Mrs. Roosevelt wondered how many times in the past such a meeting as the one last night had faced great difficulties and pondered how to solve them. She was sure it happened after the Revolution and again after the Civil War and at other times.
"I am sure," she said, "that what we are facing can be faced. We need to feel that we are able to meet whatever demands are made on us."
The people are disturbed and confused, as she saw it, not only by their own problems, but by the situations in other countries. If Americans confine their efforts to their country alone, she said, "the heart will go out of the rest of the world."
"We are a little nervous about our own spiritual leadership," she added, "though we have always been able to meet our own internal problems when they were serious enough and we faced them. When the people think things through, they usually come up with the answers."
We have, Mrs. Roosevelt said, "the job of awakening a sleeping people to the sense of responsibility which they have to accept."
She warned against the philosophy that troubles are over and people can simply enjoy themselves. They are not over for a majority of the world, she pointed out, and "the world has been telescoped in many ways, so that everybody feels what has happened to everybody else."
Referring to Mr. Wyatt's discussion of housing, Mrs. Roosevelt said: "There are rural slums, too. And we need also to rebuild the thinking in farm homes."
In her work as a delegate to the United Nations, she explained, she has noticed that "you feel the strength of representatives of nations as they identify themselves with their people."
"We didn't solve housing in that way," he pointed out.
James Wechsler,6 Washington correspondent, took subscriptions to raise funds to continue the Union for Democratic Action. Mrs. Cornelia Bryce Pinchot7 and Mrs. J. Wesley Adams8 were co-chairman of the dinner.
January 6, ER used My Day to report on the founding meeting of the Americans United for Democratic Action:
I spent the whole day yesterday from 9:30 in the morning till after five in the afternoon with a group of people, many of whom I have known before, who were trying to set up a liberal and progressive organization. They chose as their name, "Americans United for Democratic Action."9 If they live up to that name, they will not only lay down certain principles, but they will find ways and means to acquaint the people of the country with their program. In addition, they will organize the action which can be taken in any community in the nation if people are in agreement on specific programs.
Yesterday I received a long screed from someone accusing me of forming a third party. I wish emphatically to deny that I am forming a third party, or in fact that I am forming anything. I am joining with other progressives, many of whom are far younger and more active than I am, and far more influential, in an attempt to carry on the spirit of progress. We do not believe that what has been done in the past is the highest attainment that can be hoped for in a democratic nation. We hope to face new situations and find new answers in line with the needs and best interests of our country and its people, never forgetting our relationship to the family of nations. I am a Democrat because that political party has stood during the last 16 years for this type of work and achievement, and I certainly hope the Democratic party will continue to do so.10
ER hoped both her column and the new organization would prod liberal Democrats to act. Helen Bush, associate chairman of the Democratic Committee of Wyoming County, New York, wrote to thank ER on January 8. The new organization "sounded like rock-bottom material and that's what our Women's Democratic Organization here needs for a foundation if I, myself, can continue to be its leader." She then asked ER to send ADA literature that Bush could distribute to a Democratic women's meeting the following week.11